News and Information

Zimbabwe Court Deadlocked On Tsvangirai Treason Verdict
July 30, 2004

Business Day (Johannesburg)

July 30, 2004
Posted to the web July 30, 2004

Sarah Hudleston, Business Day Correspondent

THE expected judgment in the case against Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has been postponed indefinitely because the presiding judge, Zimbabwe High Court President P Garwe and his two assessors, could not agree on a verdict.

ZimOnline, a Zimbabwe news website, reported that Garwe, a reported supporter of President Robert Mugabe and his ruling party, had reached a guilty verdict but that his two assessors, Misheck Nyandoro and Joseph Dangarembizi, had disagreed with it and "refused to rubber-stamp his decision".

The assessors are reported to have requested the court records and transcripts of the case.

According to high court rules, judges may rule on points of law but all matters of fact must be decided by the majority of the court the judge and his two assessors.

Tsvangirai said yesterday it was unprecedented for a high court judge to establish his findings without having first discussed it with his two assessors.

"This is clear example of political manoeuvring. In fact, the finding should have been that it was a mistrial," he said.

Garwe is also being criticised for not having allocated judges to hear most of the opposition's 37 legal challenges to the seats won by Mugabe's Zanu (PF) party in the 2000 parliamentary elections. The challenges are now seen as academic because Zimbabwe's next parliamentary elections are only eight months away.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) went to court to challenge Zanu (PF)'s victories in 37 of the 62 seats the ruling party won in the election, alleging that it had used violence in the process. The h igh court heard only 14 of the challenges of which the MDC managed to win seven.

Tsvangirai was first charged with plotting to kill Mugabe at the end of February 2002, just weeks before he stood as a candidate against him in a presidential election. In the opinion of most international election observers, the election was deemed to be seriously flawed.

The main witness in the often drama-filled proceedings was an Israeli, Ari Ben-Menashe, who had been contracted to assist the MDC. He had secretly taped a meeting in Montreal, Canada, with Tsvangirai.

The state based its case on a grainy and inaudible videotape supplied by Ben-Menashe, who, it turned out, was also contracted to act for the Zimbabwe government.

Tsvangirai's treason trial dragged on for more than a year. There was drama in the Harare court when Ben-Menashe was proved to be an unreliable witness. In the 1980s a US congressional committee report labelled him a "talented liar".

Only one of Ben-Menashe's employees who was also present at the Montreal meeting was deemed to be a reliable witness.

Two credible witness are required to convict a person of treason, a charge that in Zimbabwe carries the death penalty.

Tsvangirai said yesterday he was anxious to get the matter settled so that he knew where he stood.

During the course of the trial, Garwe was allegedly awarded one of the country's most productive farms seized in Mugabe's controversial land redistribution programme.

Observers think that if Garwe's guilty verdict against Tsvangirai were upheld, it would probably end Tsvangirai's political career. He would have no chances of succeeding in having it reversed by the Supreme Court, as Zimbabwe's highest court is regarded as even more loyal to the government.


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